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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Amy and Isabelle at the end

A lot happens, maybe too much, in the last 70 or so pages of Amy and Isabelle. As is typical of many novels, you can see the author speeding along and trying to wrap up as many plot elements as possible before the novel grows out of control. The end is in sight! So, to mention just a few, Amy (with Stacy's ex-boyfriend) discover the decomposed body of the kidnapped girl; Amy has a kind of breakdown and is nurtured, at last, by Isabelle; Isabelle invites Avery and Mrs. Clark over for dessert and they never show up; Isabelle confesses to her friends from work (and fills us in at last) that Amy was born out of wedlock and she'd never been married. To top it off, in the last chapter they're on route to Mass. to meet Amy's half-siblings and we get some flashforwards to where all the characters, including others in Shirley Falls who make only cameos throughout the novel, will be 20 years hence. All that said, Strout is a smart and quirky writer. True, she gives some of the plot elements very short shrift, but other scenes are unfolded at great length, as she really lets us experience the inner life of the character (in particular, Isabelle's agony as she waits for the Clark's to show up for her pathetic little party, and her realization that her true friends are he coworkers and not her indifferent boss - scenes like this have been done elsewhere, but maybe never so well). These interior scenes, the characters in thought, are Strout's great strength. She kicks the novel along with dramatic or melodramtic plot elements (robberies in town, the kidnapped girl) but she doesn't handle these assuredly, whereas the interior life of the characters unfolds very beautifully - we know mother and daughter very well by the end of the novel. The long confessional scene in Isabelle's living room, with comic interludes as the women dry their tears with toilet paper, does not work for me at all - a classic example of telling rather than showing. But the final chapter works very well, as Isabelle comprehends and accepts the tension between her and her daughter and realizes that she will lose her, as all parents, to some degree, lose their children.

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